While President of the Republic of India, Smt Draupadi Murmu, was taking the grand salute from the podium on Kartavya Path in New Delhi on the 74th Republic Day (26 January, 2023), watched by millions on the television besides the dignitaries at the venue, braving the chilly wind and the cloud playing dirty by denying a full play for Sun on the horizon, Aashish Panday, was riding his Giant Escape 3 from Ahmedabad to Dandi Kuteer.
A solo ride, of course.
Who’s Aashish? Holding a master’s degree in agriculture science, the Rajasthani road safety evangelist Aashish rides a bicycle with a mission. To promote road safety, with a particular focus on cyclists, whom he considers the “most vulnerable road users.”
We all know that an ounce of experience is worth a tonne of theory. Yet, we, Indians, talk a lot without any basic understanding of the topic we harp upon most of the time. Armchair experts! Not Aashish. On-ground experience, he firmly believes, would add weight to his road safety advocacy for cyclists.
Even before sunrise, he hopped onto his Giant Escape 3 with a one-liter water bottle to quench his thirst en route and fight dehydration. On completion, he would wolf down jalebi and pakora in his housing society to compensate for the loss of 2,000 calories.
“Like Sunday, Monday, I am Panday! Aashish Panday,” says the caller on the other end.
We have known each other for six years through a road safety WhatsApp group but never met. I know him as “Aashish,” not his full name. Hence the Sunday-Monday-Pandey drill.
I called him on the 74th Republic Day, triggered by his social media posting that he had completed a 74km cycle ride to Dundi, Gujarat to celebrate the historical occasion: amrit kaal.
Aashish, in his early forties and a post-graduate in agricultural science from Pant University, based out of Ahmedabad, is on a Mission One Lakh Kilometers on bicycle before 2030 to promote road safety.
He has done 8,300km in 2021 and another 6,300km in 2022. His target is 10,000km every year between 2021 and 2030, enabling him to achieve his One Lakh KM target by 2030, “that is when I will reach my 50th birthday!”
He owns two bicycles like Prakash Kulkarni of Pune (https://konsultramesh.medium.com/on-cycling-6-ac52fb65c54a). Given his regular travel across India, he convinced his family and friends to buy a bicycle, and you guessed rightly. When in their town, he rides them!
In Ahmedabad, there are hireable bicycles that you pick up at one location and drop at another location. “Inter-city, it is there,” he affirms. What about intra-city, say, from Ahmedabad to Surat, for example? No luck on that front, yet in India.
Cyclists are the most vulnerable users. Every other road user treats them as an “inferior category,” he opines. I ditto his sentiments. The only category that comes after cyclists is pedestrians.
How does his wife and two sons 14-year old Pratyansh and eight year old Priyansh react to his cycle mission? She screams, like mine! Kids are supportive. Universal!
“I ride with pride,” observes the proud Sunday-Monday-Panday!